Geoff Cook is Helping Killingworth Go Solar

Geoff Cook of Killingworth is a key player in the Solarize HK project, which aims to spread the word about the benefits of solar power and help as many residents as possible convert to solar energy consumers.
Geoff Cook of Killingworth is a key player in the Solarize HK project, which aims to spread the word about the benefits of solar power and help as many residents as possible convert to solar energy consumers.

As chair of the Energy Task Force in his hometown of Killingworth, Geoff Cook has been a major asset to the local team working to solarize Killingworth.

The program also includes Haddam and is called Solarize Haddam-Killingworth. Solarize HK is part of a larger program called Solarize Connecticut and was formally kicked off at a presentation on May 15 at Burr Elementary School.

Geoff recalls, "We were really psyched and pumped and thinking we were going to get 50 or 60 people there and that would be a really good turnout. I think there were just under 300. It was a tremendous success. People showed up and had to leave because there was nowhere to sit; they were out in the hallway. So it was really encouraging to see that amount of interest. State Senator Ed Meyer was there; both first selectwomen were there [from Haddam and Killingworth]. It was well received. I felt good about it."

Solarizing a home involves installing solar photovoltaic panels on the roof or in the yard (or both) that convert sunlight into electricity. Solarize CT is a statewide initiative now in
Phase 4, and towns compete to join by submitting a request for proposal (RFP).

Geoff explains, "We had considered Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3, and decided against it, but I was approached by First Selectwoman [Catherine] Iino, saying, 'We really ought to take a look at Phase 4; the program has matured quite a bit.' We also discussed and agreed upon a collaborative effort with Haddam."

Geoff describes joining Solarize CT as "a competitive process on two fronts: getting your town, or in our case, coalition, accepted," and getting a builder.

He says, "There were only, I think, 12 slots [for Phase 4]. We sent out an RFP and were selected. At that point, the state agency that administers the program, Connecticut Energy Finance Investment Authority (CEFIA), sends out an RFP to solar installers on behalf of the 12 towns that were selected."

Of the 100 proposals CEFIA received in response to its RFP, about 12 companies responded specifically to Haddam-Killingworth, Geoff says. He and the Solarize HK team embarked on a selection process to narrow that down to a short list. They traveled to CEFIA's offices in Rocky Hill, vetted the 12 responses, and then returned to hear presentations from the companies on their short list. Ultimately, they selected BeFree Solar.

"It was a lot of work," Geoff states.

Behind BeFree

"BeFree is a local company," Geoff says. "Their offices are in North Madison, the owners of the company reside in Killingworth, and they had a lot of existing customers in both towns already. They also share another pretty interesting distinction in that they participated in Phase 1 of Solarize CT a couple of years ago. There were only four towns that participated in Phase 1, and they were the selected installer for the Town of Durham. They installed about a megawatt of solar throughout the course of the program, which is a significant amount. I think they did something like 130 installations. They set a record."

The town's liability is practically nil because CEFIA, not the town, holds the contract with the installer.

"That's what's nice about this program versus some of the copycat programs that other towns have done," Geoff says. "But it's still a tremendous amount of work on the part of the town and volunteers. A large part of the sales and marketing outreach efforts are all taken on by volunteers in the town. We write press releases, signage, we host and promote events. The installer helps with that as well, certainly, but we know the town best. So we leverage social media, the Lions' Club, Chamber of Commerce, churches, so everybody's plugged into different things.

"In any town you've got a small percentage of the population who do 90 percent of the 'stuff,' so a lot of those movers and shakers were brought into the fold," Geoff adds. "We had some pre-public announcement meetings where we reached out to folks who already had solar installed, as well as those who were very pro-solar, and recruited them to be solar ambassadors. So that's really sort of like a marketing/sales force-friends, neighbors, anybody-they just evangelize the program and the benefits of solar in general. So that helps to spread the messaging."

Top-Tier Ascension in Record Time

Geoff has lived in Killingworth for about 17 years. His wife, Annette, is also self-employed as a handbag designer for her company, Pink Tulips, LLC. They have two sons, Cameron, who is 20 and away at college, and Curtis, who is a junior at Haddam-Killingworth High School.

Geoff spent 20 years in "the high-tech industry, telecommunications, and IT," he says. "I have an engineering background and was always interested in technology and still am, but about nine years ago or so I left corporate America and went into business for myself as a general contractor. But I'm still very technology-oriented, so that drives my interest in it, as does anything to do with renewable energy."

His leadership on this project is evident in the wealth of off-the-cuff knowledge and enthusiasm he displays on the subject and his ability to explain its intricacies to a layperson. Take, for example, the pricing.

"The reason you get such aggressive pricing is based on economies of scale," he says. "There's the expectation that you're going to get a lot of customers, and it's based on tier pricing, so the more people who sign up, the better the price is for everyone. It starts off at 'X' price per watt. Zero to however many watts is that price per watt, and once you get to a certain level the price per watt goes down. There are five [price] tiers, so the goal is to try to get to Tier 5. A couple of weeks after the program kickoff, we had already achieved Tier 5. It's just amazing. I'm quite sure that [timeframe] is, without a doubt, hands down, a record for all of any of the four phases of Solarize CT.

"What's really nice is there's no penalization for being an early adopter and signing up at the higher price, because whatever the final price is that's reached, that price is extended to everyone. So it's retroactive in that regard."

Solar Haves and Have-Nots

Geoff is also well-versed in the potential deal-breakers of converting to solar power.

"It's not for everybody for a variety of reasons," he says. "It's very dependent on geographical orientation. You want your roof to have a southern or slight southwestern orientation for solar to work. If you have an east-west facing roof, that's not too good. You can still do it, but you need twice as many panels to get the same amount of output because it doesn't get as much sun.

"There are a ton of variables, including what your actual electrical usage is-are you a little old lady living in a 900-square-foot Cape who's very energy conscious, or are you in a giant 5,000-square-foot McMansion with pools and central air and a large consumption footprint? In that case, you need a lot of panels. Do you actually have the space on the roof? Is the house ideally oriented? Is there shading involved? If there is, are you willing to cut down or prune trees? There are a lot of different ways to do it, but in some situations it just doesn't make sense."

Finding out whether your home is set up for solar is the first step to converting.

"You can contact the installer, have them come out and do a site survey, and take a look," Geoff says. "It doesn't cost anything and you're not obligated to install the panels. All they really need is to see your house, see how it's located, the angle of the sun, shading, and what your power usage is, which is very easily obtained from your bill."

Show Me the Money

Speaking of bills, those who can make solar work can enjoy financial incentives in the form of installer discounts, state rebates, and federal tax credits, Geoff says.

And the panels themselves are not ugly. BeFree thought of everything, according to Geoff, and that was mainly why they were selected as the installer for Solarize HK.

He says, "BeFree had a much more comprehensive solution and it included all-black panels, which a lot of people want, rather than the less expensive ones, which have the silver framing around them. All-black panels are much more unobtrusive. BeFree also doesn't run any unsightly wires or conduits under your house. Everything is brought down inside walls and attics wherever possible, so it is as aesthetically pleasing as it could possibly be."

To get Solarize HK's Tier 5 pricing, all contracts must be signed by Oct. 7.

"Just a contract needs to be signed; the panels don't need to be installed by then," Geoff emphasizes. "And in some cases, if there has been tremendous interest and volume, the installer, I believe, has an option to petition CEFIA and extend the program. Historically, over the previous three Solarize CT rounds, what they've found is that it's been a very slow start and then the last three weeks of the program, 90 percent of the people sign up and they're slammed. What's really great about Solarize HK is the exact opposite has happened. We're already at Tier 5."

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